FBU annual conference calls for ban on Christian fireground relief volunteers

flickr.com / hwr21

THIS BLOG HAS been made aware of discussions taking place between FBU members in various parts of the country over reports that the union is seeking to ban teams of relief volunteers from lending assistance to fire and rescue services during protracted and large-scale emergency incidents.

These volunteers provide support and nourishment – in the way of food, drink and other provisions – to hard-working fire crews and other emergency service workers at such incidents.

There is a long tradition within the emergency services of such teams providing support to workers on the incident ground. Their presence has been particularly welcomed by firefighters during the recent spate of wildfires, and it is perhaps these incidents that have been the catalyst for the current discussions on the subject between FBU members.

We can confirm that it is indeed true that the support of some of these relief teams is now under threat as a consequence of a resolution passed at the FBU’s annual conference in May. That resolution, which was moved by the union’s LGBT committee, was critical of the fact that some of the teams were established by Christian groups which happen (perhaps not surprisingly) to take a traditional stance on LGBT issues.

The resolution stated: “Conference believes it is wrong for our members to be expected to accept charity from people who do not share the values of inclusion and respect for difference” and called on FBU officials to “raise their concerns” (thinly-veiled code for calling for a ban) with local and national employers.

The resolution cited the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church as an example of an offending group. But the same could also be said of the Salvation Army, a Christian group which has for many years played a very prominent role in providing support to emergency service workers at major incidents, but which also adopts a traditional Christian stance on LGBT issues, opposing same-sex marriage, for example, and stating that scripture prohibits homosexual activity. (Update: in response to this blog, some FBU officials have claimed that the resolution was not intended to apply to the Salvation Army. Well, if that was the case annual conference delegates should not have agreed to the resolution in the terms it was written, or they should have attempted to amend it. They did neither, meaning that the Salvation Army unquestionably falls within the purview of the resolution.)

The passing of the resolution at annual conference effectively means that official FBU policy is now to lobby for a ban on any relief volunteers who happen to be orthodox Christians. Is this a position that a majority of members across the country would support? Should there perhaps have been a wider debate on the matter given the implications for the welfare of fire crews at major incidents?

Of course, it is very common for religious groups to hold traditional views on LGBT issues. Nobody is saying we have to agree with them. But any firefighter who has been provided with support by these teams will know that they don’t bring their religious opinions to the fireground. They attend incidents because they are well-meaning, community-spirited people who want to provide assistance to emergency service workers. That is all. It would surely be deeply unfortunate if there was no longer room for such volunteers within our service.

It is hard to see how the position taken by annual conference is consistent with the call contained within the resolution itself for “respect for difference”. It is also difficult to believe that the same robust language and stance would have been adopted had the support at emergency incidents been provided by organised teams of volunteers from other faiths.

Do we want a fire and rescue service that rejects the kindness, help and compassion of individuals because they happen to be traditional Christians? Would annual conference rather FBU members went without support and nourishment at protracted and challenging incidents because of the religious views of volunteers?

For that would almost certainly be the outcome if these relief teams were banned.

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